Casey: Only Half Iraq Troop Boost Needed

Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., answers a question during the Senate Armed Services committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2007, on his nomination to become Army Chief of Staff.
AP Photo
The top U.S. commander in Iraq told a Senate panel Thursday that improving security in Baghdad would take fewer than half as many extra troops as President George W. Bush has chosen to commit.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on his nomination to be Army chief of staff, Gen. George Casey said he had asked for two additional Army brigades, based on recommendations of his subordinate commanders. Bush announced Jan. 10 that he would send five extra brigades as part of a buildup that would total 21,500 soldiers and Marines.

Casey, the president's pick to become the next Army Chief of Staff, also differed with his commander-in-chief's description of the old strategy as "a slow failure," reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.

"I actually don't see it as slow failure," said Casey. "I see it as slow progress."

With many in Congress opposing or skeptical of Bush's troop buildup, Casey did not say he opposed the president's decision. He said the full complement of five brigades would give U.S. commanders in Iraq additional, useful flexibility.

"In my mind, the other three brigades should be called forward after an assessment has been made on the ground" about whether they are needed to ensure success in Baghdad, Casey said later.

The new strategy depends heavily on Iraqi troops, adds Martin, but Casey revealed the additional Iraqi units moving into Baghdad are only at two-thirds strength and he conceded his progress reports on the training and equipping of Iraqis missed perhaps the key factor: their willingness to fight.

Casey's comments seemed put distance between his views and those of Bush and some lawmakers like Sen. John McCain, a Republican and possible 2008 presidential contender, who have questioned whether Bush's troop increase will be enough.

Casey made his comments as bipartisan efforts to round up enough votes for a nonbinding resolution critical of the administration's new policy faltered when two Democratic liberals signaled they would oppose the measure.

Sen. Russ Feingold issued a statement criticizing the nonbinding measure as weak, and said it "misunderstands the situation in Iraq and shortchanges our national security interests. The resolution rejects redeploying U.S. troops and supports moving a misguided military strategy from one part of Iraq to another," he said.

Separately, Sen. Chris Dodd, a 2008 presidential contender, called a news conference to announce his opposition.

Dodd's decision underscored a dilemma confronting other presidential hopefuls in the Senate — whether to support the measure backed by the party leadership, or oppose it and seek support among anti-war activists likely to have influence in next year's presidential primaries and caucuses.

The White House said Casey, in citing his December request for two rather than five additional brigades, was recounting old information.